Understanding The Bengals’ 2017 Playoff Picture

Dec 18, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) calls a play against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first quarter at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 18, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) calls a play against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first quarter at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports /

With free agents walking and fans scratching their heads, the Cincinnati Bengals are readying for another season. But, the playoffs may not be included.

If you’ve never been in this situation before, welcome to the world of the Lost Decade. In order to fully understand what’s probably not going to happen, the key is to be grateful. Since 2011, the Bengals have been a perennial playoff machine. Cincinnati has been able to churn out postseason berths and keep fans coming back for more. But, this time things will be strangely different. Moves made if free agency will have to justify what’s done in the draft. Lean times could be in store for the upcoming seasons.

Truthfully, it’s not time to panic. Historically, Bengals fans can be the hardest to please and tend to get sensitive about the slightest miscues. Hey, I go back a long way with the Stripes. Personally, the feeling is mutual when it comes to the moves of the front office. But, there are times when things work out and my hissy fit wasn’t necessary. Yet, this offseason has been a trip to the Twilight Zone. All that’s missing is Rod Serling telling us the rundown in that staccato voice.

When the Bengals allowed Kevin Zeitler, Andrew Whitworth and Rex Burkhead their free agency freedom, the echoes of years past seemed clearer. Maybe Mike Brown is really all about the Benjamins. Is it more convenient to just lose and promise the fans a better team is coming? That’s been the scenario since Mikey Boy took over. Looks like it’s happening again. 

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It’s About Playoff Functionality

Hey, anything is possible. But, is it going to happen immediately? That all depends on how well Marvin Lewis can get the guys into playoff functionality. Yes, you just read that phrase. Playoff functionality is something the Bengals haven’t had since Lewis has been at the helm.

It’s a given that the Bengals will shred the regular season schedule and fold like an origami kitten in the postseason. The exception was the 2015 Wild Card loss to Pittsburgh. We won’t trek down memory lane. If Lewis is able to work the same magic that happened when he arrived, things could be interesting indeed.

Marvelous Marv took the 2-14 mess created by Dick LeBeau and tweaked the team to an 8-8 record. All told, the Bengals had two such years before leaping to the playoffs in 2005. If Carson Palmer isn’t targeted by Kimo von Oelhoffen, things may have been different. But, the fact remains that the Bengals are going through a similar transition phase. The next two years could very well be a rebooting time for Cincinnati. Things have to mesh on both sides of scrimmage for a solid postseason run.

Defensively, the free agency pickup of Kevin Minter shows that the Bengals want to make something happen now. It shows that there’s an acknowledgment that the defense has gotten slower and needs to get an injection of youth. The free agent gains on defense outweigh the losses. Working a deal with Bene Benwikere and picking up Minter are solid moves to upgrade the D.

Offensively, the O-Line has to be addressed. Hopefully, the draft magic continues. Then there’s Jeremy Hill. He has to prove there’s still some spark left.

When Does It Happen?

This is where patience has to come into play. A huge burden is going to be placed on the shoulders of the 2016 draft picks. While the defense finds its nastiness again, Andrew Billings has to turn into another Geno Atkins. William Jackson may be the immediate replacement for Adam Jones. Hamilton County Prosecutor, Joe Deters, is slated to make a decision on Jones’ situation on Wednesday. Whoever steps into the defensive back role will be targeted.

Next: Who Dey Notes

The Bengals have playmakers that will undoubtedly shine. But, it all has to come together at the right time. Offensive coordinator Ken Zampese has to make it simple. Frankly, 2017 has to be about the fundamentals. If Lewis and the coaching staff work “together,” the turnaround could be sooner than expected. This season looks like no more than 9-7. But, that may not be enough to sniff the Big Dance. It’s not panic mode. Just be very concerned.